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Calm down, not stir up.

Next before Advent BCP

25 November 2007 11:00 | Fr. Roderick Leece

The reign of ‘The Lord of Righteousness’ is prophesied by the prophet Jeremiah today in one of the few BCP epistles from the Old Testament. He foretells the coming of a King who will execute judgement and justice upon God’s world. The idea points to the completion of the season following Trinity Sunday and looks forward to Advent next week. Inspired by the words of Jesus who in today’s gospel gives thanks over the loaves, Austin Farrer reminds us about the saying of grace – with thankful hearts for God’s many blessings. The Lord gives an important example to us – especially before and after sharing meals. Farrer comments that today’s grace comes after the meal – at the end of the Church year as a thank you to God for what has past. All this before the Christian ‘Happy New Year’ of next Sunday. He says this: ‘In the sacrament we celebrate today, Christ says a final grace for us over the banquet which divine goodness has spread for us in the past year. Consider how marvellous, how various, how rich a thing our existence has been, and is.’

There is then a thank you to end the year. But what about this idea of stirring up? Was the collect written for a different era when people needed to be stirred up from sleepy lives (excited and stimulated is a more accurate translation)? Stirred up from sloth to bring forth good works? It is true our wills need constantly to turn away from the illusions of the world to the eternal verities of our loving God and be stirred up in that sense. But this idea of stirring up seems rather inappropriate in other ways. Surely we need more calm – more peace and quiet and contemplation – a holy strategy to survive the pre Christmas anxiety, and frenetic rush?

I know doctors, lawyers, dentists, teachers, fathers and mothers bringing up children almost single-handedly, bankers, surveyors, property agents, financial managers, academics, students, secretaries (now called PAs), public relations people, charity sector consultants, hoteliers and club secretaries, journalists, I.T. experts, publishers – all of whose lives are becoming ever more frenetic. Priests too. So do you – because I am looking at them. I am referring to people I know personally who are sitting in the pews in front of me, and right next to you. All of us putting up with increasing pressure in a society that has allowed itself to add on layer upon layer of constant targets, reviews, and managerial overdrive. Very little of which is absolutely necessary. I am not aware that any of you have more time on your hands now than when I first met you two years ago…except for reasons of health. I could stop the sermon with that point…

We live in a mad world over which we rush to try to gain control, but are rather losing it. ‘Vanity of vanities saith the Preacher - all is vanity.’

I know many of you (particularly those vulnerable to the whims of politicians - teachers and those who work within the National Health System) whose profession, work patterns and methods have changed beyond recognition. Not that you are then allowed to settle into a healthy rhythm when you have adapted to the various changes required. No wonder the system broke down and the first to fall flat on their faces, and on the personal details of 25 million people, were the civil servants and politicians. Nor is the church immune. Ill considered and rapid responses by email - blogging of instant opinion -demands for rushed decisions - have brought more heat than light in the current Anglican worldwide war. And the Roman Catholic church is only on borrowed time before it too will have to face the same issues.

Having been back to Mirfield in Yorkshire this week to visit James McKeran our former Vestry Clerk who is training to be a priest there – I noticed there have been some changes of course. Not least that women are now training to become priests. But the context in which the ordinands receive their formation - the basic monastic pattern for the Community of the Resurrection remains the same. They still say morning prayer at 6.45am. There remains the midday office followed by the Eucharist. Evensong is still sung daily at 6.30pm and Compline said at 9.15pm. There is a healthy and balanced routine.

Today on Stir up Sunday we give thanks for the blessings of the past year. But we need to take stock of the framework within which we live our ordered (or disordered) lives – to make a Christian New Year’s Resolution next Sunday that rebalances frenetic and vain activity towards peace and calm. We need to renew confidence in the loving purposes of God. For God IS working his purpose out. In the midst of life. In the midst of suffering. Even in the face of death. God is working his purpose out – however mysterious and painful it might appear. This confidence issues only from prayer and resting in God. And the truth is that if we have time for God we always have time for other people too. You have probably seen the Tee Shirt ‘Look busy Jesus is coming’. We smile, but we know it is the wrong message. If we are overly stressed and busy we might meet him rather sooner than we hoped!

The bread we break and share in today’s Eucharist and in today’s gospel story is a reminder of our broken humanity…but a reassurance too that nothing is lost…we are never discarded…never regarded as left overs in the eyes of God…for all is gathered in. Every scrap we are able to offer him is gratefully received…even if we offer only the dregs of our own lives.

(Excerpts from beginning and end of poem for this Sunday from John Keble’s The Christian Life)

Will God indeed with fragments bear,
Snatch’d late from the decaying year?
Or can the Saviour’s blood endear
The dregs of a polluted life?…

O watch and pray ere Advent dawn!
For thinner than the subtlest lawn
‘Twixt thee and death the veil is drawn.

But love too late can never glow:
The scatter’d fragments Love can glean,
Refine the dregs, and yield us clean
To regions where one thought serene
Breathes sweeter than whole years of sacrifice below.
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